4 reasons to why a pulse survey won’t solve your problem

The employee survey field has evolved, it’s now split between those that do pulse surveys and those that are stuck in the 1980’s way of measuring employee satisfaction. We all want to be agile, right? So, here is some food for thought if you want to switch from annual surveys and start pulsing.

Let’s start by stating the obvious, there’s not one good and one bad option. Success in both yearly surveys and pulses comes from handling all parts of the process with love. I’ll give you a short intro to the most important factors below.

1. You need to collect that data

No matter what path you chose, your survey needs the right mix of questions that together measure the things you’re after. In short, it needs to be confirmed through scientific research that what you ask is connected to the outcome you wish for. This goes for all sizes of surveys. Your questions also need to give you concrete and actionable insights. That your engagement went 5 units up or down this week doesn’t tell you anything about how you should tackle it.

2. And get the right amount of it

To be able to draw conclusions from the survey data, you need to make sure that it represents your team or organization. Very easily put, the smaller team you survey, the higher response rate you’ll need. And you’ll need it every time you send the survey. So if you want to do a weekly pulse, this means that you need a high weekly response engagement.

But doesn’t five out of ten answers give an indication of the team’s engagement? Frankly put, no. Half the team is missing in the data, and you´re not even sure about what part since the responses are confidential. If you want to make data-driven decisions, you need to make sure that the data is good. Otherwise, you can cut the survey budget and take a look at the stars or the entrails of a goat instead.

3. How you get those answers

By asking questions, you commit to taking action on the responses. The yearly survey has the advantage that people most likely have forgotten about it since last year when you send out a new one. A weekly pulse process is not as forgiving. Listening to the feedback and taking action is the tricky part. 

Employee surveys rarely results in continuous improvements, but rather tends to end up in a monstrous process of its own every year. And most likely in a tool that your managers never log in to. Pulse surveys instead have the big pro that the insights can be added to a team’s regular development work, and be mixed into all other processes and team syncs as a nice and sweet glue. As long as the manager listens.

4. Who are the heroes?

This takes us to the heart of the problem. The main challenge is not about how we measure, it’s about how we follow up. For teams that have weekly team check-ins and regular 1/1’s with their manager, a pulse survey can probably be a compliment. It can also most likely be completely unnecessary since they already do it by the book.

Great managers will most likely be successful no matter what survey methodology the HR process owner picks between, but think about the others. Will a pulse survey tool help a team where there’s no psychological safety, or where half of the team never clicks on the invite? I think not, it will more likely be seen as a weekly bitter rub in the face.

So, what are your thoughts?

Are pulses worth the hype, or is it just an engineering solution to a behavioral scientific problem?

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